Who do we find interesting? People like us. We may be lawyers, doctors, engineers, accountants and um, advertising copywriters but we find lives gone wrong interesting. Unpalatable and horrifying perhaps, but interesting. It’s like looking through a window into complex lives and watching them unravel episode by episode at prime time. They are usually about characters we would not like to meet or even be friends with. But somewhere deep within us is a voyeuristic instinct that needs to be fed regularly. We don’t have nosey neighbours anymore because lives on TV are far more engaging. What happens next door is unpredictable entertainment. Something to break the tedium of everyday living. What happens on TV is that we can settle down, grab a snack and our favourite drink and watch the next instalment. It is also timed to perfection, so we know when we can tune in and tune out.
Gossip, of course, is ageless. Go back in time a few decades when there was no TV and you will find families who spent hours backbiting about each other and running the neighbours down. The joint family system had rifts that were never allowed to come out into the open but contained like festering sores within the deep dank recesses of the family’s honour and respect. The patriarch or matriarch ruled with an iron hand much like the saas bahu serials that are so popular today. No wonder it is the genre that housewives are so captivated by. Of course, everyone living in a joint family these days will continue to maintain how their family is completely above all this, but the truth is, you see one joint family and you’ve seen them all. No wonder the system broke the moment a few adventurous children got the first whiff of freedom and bolted to set up their own nuclear families.
As a kid in a nuclear family, it was great fun getting into the thick of a joint family during the annual holidays. We got to know our cousins and aunts and uncles. And what complete lack of privacy meant. Everything was shared. Everyone adjusted. It was only when we grew into adults that the cracks showed. On the surface, all was bonhomie and camaraderie. But in the nights, the complaints were whispered. Sobs under the sheets amplified into little gestures of revolt at meal time and family functions. Nothing would be out in the open but sharp tangential phrases and gestures were the weapons of choice. And they cut deep, brought out in heated conversations years later. Who had done more for the family. Who had done less. Who had saved the honour and who had besmirched it. Who had paid and who had gotten away scot free. Ambitions throttled and dreams forgotten. Prime time drama created outside the reach of the cameras and scripted with very few happily-ever-afters.